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Published: September 25th 2011
ETHIOPIA...Nech Sar & Arba Minch. 514 sq miles of savannah, dry bush & groundwater forest in SW Ethiopia...a haven for 104 species of mammals and over 189 species of birds...welcome to Nech Sar (Nechisar or White Grass) National Park.
Accessed from Arba Minch...along one of the roughest tourist roads in Ethiopia...the isthmus between Lakes Abaya and Chamo...known as "the Bridge of God."
Stunning scenery...but with a bloody history.
In November 2004, 463 thatched huts of the Guji-Oromo people were burned down by Ethiopian park officials and police...forced relocation.
In 1965 after spending 3 months surveying wildlife areas in Ethiopia, a UNESCO team proposed a game reserve to the east of Lake Chamo for the protection of the Swayne's Hartebeest & other wildlife.
In 1967 Nech Sar National Park was proposed but was not established until 1974.
Since then the Ethiopian Government has sought to resolve the dilemma of the protection of wildlife in Nech Sar, that otherwise is traditional grazing land for ethnic groups, in particular the Kore and the Guji-Oromo.
In 1982 following recommendations of the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, the Guji living in the lowlands between Lakes Chamo
and Abaya "were forcibly evicted from the park at gun point."
At the end of the Derg rule, the Guji returned to their traditional grazing areas in the park...and also acquired firearms to resist future evictions!
The management of National Parks has always presented unresolved problems for wildlife authorities in Ethiopia...due principally to these areas being occupied as traditional lands by ethnic groups for grazing, crops, fishing and settlement.
Once designated as National Parks, such human survival activities become "illegal"
...on their own tribal land!!!
Little wonder these ethnic groups took up firearms...to protect their turf from eviction...firearms that could then also be used in inter-tribal conflict!
In February 2004 African Parks signed an Agreement with the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Southern State, People and Nationalities for the management of Nech Sar National Park on a 25 year lease.
Prior to that, the Government had expressed its intention to resettle the Kore and Guji living in the park "because of their unsustainable impact on the park."
As the plains between the lakes were grazed by up to 7,000 cattle, with degradation of habitat, erosion, and pressure on wildlife, the traditional communities had
In the 2004 Agreement, African Parks had a clause inserted that they would not take over management of the park until the resettlement of the Kore and Guji had been completed.
In consultation with the Government they began attempting to stem "illegal operations in the park"
including fishing, the cutting down of trees for firewood to service the town of Arba Minch, human settlements and grazing of cattle in the park.
As a result it was reported over 9,000 people, Kore and Guji were subjected to forced relocation.
This created other problems as they were resettled on traditional lands of other tribes...its not as if there was free land just lying around unclaimed!
African Parks reported "The resettlement was partially accomplished with the Kore people being resettled to the South of the Park."
Another report I have read says while some Kore were relocated "the whereabouts of the remaining 2,000 Kore was unknown."
It appears the Guji were less compliant.
In November 2004, 463 Guji huts were burned down by park officials and police.
It seems it did not score a mention on the radio news. A Guji spokesman
said "In our case we lost 463 houses, but it was not reported at all."
Refugees International protested.
The Washington Post reported in an article about cheetahs, that about 2,000 families were forced to leave their homes in the park in 2004.
On 3 January 2005 the Addis Tribune reported "As tourist facilities have been developed in southern Ethiopia's Nechisar National park, local residents have been forcibly evicted without any compensation."
That month was a busy month. There were further reports of huts being burnt and the forced relocations were escalated.
The following month was February 2005, the month African Parks commenced management of the park...and relocation of ethnic groups had not yet been completed.
In August 2005 the African Parks boss said: "The government had told us that it was going to resettle the Kore and Guji tribes outside the park. It was a political decision, and there was European Union support for it.
We said that we could work with people in the park, as we do in Zambia, but they said no.
We didn't want to be involved in the resettlement, so I put a
clause in the contract that said we wouldn't take over the park until the resettlement was completed."
Over the first two years of its management, little progress was made sorting out a compromise with the remaining peoples in the park.
On 30 September 2007 African Parks reached an Agreement with the Guji to define an area in the park that would be free of people and cattle, with permitted use in the remaining areas of the park.
The authorities were requested to recognise this agreement as an acceptable and practical compromise for the benefit of both people and nature.
For some reason the government did not recognise the Agreement of 30 September 2007.
On 7 December 2007 African Parks then withdrew from and ceased its management of the park.
At the same time African Parks withdrew from its management agreement over the Omo and Mago National Parks due to its inability to cope with competing interests of eight ethnic groups...see my blog "Ethiopia...Stretched Lips & AK47s...The Mursi"
We now move to February 2011...4 Aussies wait with Gobeze at the gate of the park...uniformed soldiers let us in...one with rifle climbs in
the back. "Did we see any Kore or Guji-Omoro peoples or settlements in Nech Sar?"
you ask. "No...not a sign...but a truck piled high and packed with smiling faces came out of nowhere and had to negotiate the treacherous track we had just endured."
We were thrown around like in a washing machine for hours...past brown Lake Abaya...up to a Lookout to view blue Lake Chamo and the Nech Sar Plains.
Did we see any wildlife?
Well...yes...but not what I would call plentiful.
We saw warthogs, baboons, squirrels, kudu, Burchell's zebras and dik-diks.
But I loved it for the scenery...the subtle colours of Ethiopia...washed down with the subtle flavours of Guji-Oromo coffee...my kind of heaven.
Then a very different game drive...this time by afternoon boat on Lake Chamo...to view hippos, pelicans and Nile crocodiles.
Our lodgings in Arba Minch was the well known tourist haunt...Swaynes Hotel...some of the best views in Africa balanced by some of the worst service!
Ordered wine for Den & Ros...and beer for Mike & I. The power had just gone on so the beer was cool not cold...no problem.
The wine came out...but the
girls wouldn't drink it from the bottle and insisted on wine glasses. Might have been OK if it did not take a full hour to score glasses...not for lack of trying!!! but then the wine turned out to be off!!!
After that we had our meals in the swish foliant grounds of the Arba Minch Hotel...and recognised other residents of Swaynes doing likewise!
Time to celebrate...G.H. Mumm Champagne for the girls, Harar Beer for Mike and Bedele Beer for me.
A tame dik-dik rubs next to us...twice normal size...presumably the result of plentiful food.
Activity behind us...a chef wielding a wicked blade cutting meat as if he is playing the drums...chop, chop, chop...one into the meat...two on the board...getting faster...still in rhythm...attracting a crowd.
So we got sucked into the allure of the Ethiopian Barbeque...yep...sucked in...and not the only time..!
Served in a pottery bell still cooking at the base to keep it warm...small strips of beef...tough, leathery, largely inedible...the reason why pliers are now in my travel kit as a substitute for toothpicks.
Time for a coffee?...no...I need another Bedele!!!
Relax & Enjoy,
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